Actors linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency recruited US journalists to contribute to a news website that was critical of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in an attempt to sow division among liberal voters, Facebook said Tuesday. Tipped off by the FBI, Facebook removed 13 accounts and two pages linked to the "global news organization" with about 500 published articles before they received much attention. The pages had about 14,000 followers, per the Washington Post. A Tuesday report by network analysis firm Graphika found the website, Peace Data, targeted democratic socialists and disaffected Democrats and included attacks on Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris. It "seemed designed to divide Democratic supporters and to depress support for Biden and Harris," Graphika's chief innovation officer, Camille François, tells the Post.
Facebook plans to notify some 200 journalists recruited to write on topics including corruption, human rights, and the environment. An out-of-work American journalist says an editor reached out via a direct message on Twitter in July, offering $200 per article, per NBC News. At least one editor was a fictional persona. The IRA also created numerous social media personas used to sow division among US voters and boost Trump's campaign ahead of the 2016 election. Peace Data, which did not disclose any link to Russia, also recruited journalists on the freelance networking site Guru. "Hiring people who are fluent in the language and culture avoids the kind of tells that can expose an operation," Renée DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory tells the Post. Twitter separately announced Tuesday that it had removed five accounts tied to the website. (Read more disinformation stories.)